Sunday, April 19, 2020

Breathe on me, Breath of God

Sermon for the first Sunday after Easter

How would you like  someone to breathe on you?

Even before the dreaded virus made breathing on someone a form of assault, there was always something rather unpleasant about someone breathing on you. It's all about germs, isn't it?

However, breathing on people and things is a ceremonial action. According to ancient tradition, the priest breathes in the face of the newly baptised, the bishop breathes on the Chrism Oil and, in some rites, the priest breathes into the chalice at the consecration.

And you know the reason why. Jesus breathes on His disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Ghost. The breath is the outward sign of the Holy Ghost being given to the Disciples.

So what's the Day of Pentecost for? Isn't that when the Holy Spirit descends on the Disciples?


What Jesus is doing here is giving us yet another proof of the Trinity. The Holy Ghost has His origin in the Father just as the Son has His origin in the Father. The Son - Our Lord Jesus Christ - is eternally begotten of the Father. The Holy Ghost eternally proceeds from the Father but enters into Time through the Son. When Jesus breathes on His disciples, the Holy Ghost enters into our frame and experience of being. The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father through the Son. 

In breathing on His disciples after His Resurrection, Our Lord completes our baptism for us. We are baptised with water into His death and then with His Spirit into His life. It is only when Jesus' earthly ministry is ended at His Ascension that the ministry of the Holy Ghost can begin in us. That is why there is a wait between receiving the Holy Ghost from the Son after the Resurrection and being charged with the Spirit at Pentecost.

That doesn't stop us from being uncomfortable when a priest breathes on us, does it?


We do have to balance our worship responsibly. Our breath carries germs and we cannot escape that. It is a sign of our humanity and our eventual death. It means that we just cannot be blasé about our actions and compromise someone else's health. The priest that breathes into the chalice as part of the liturgy is the only one who receives it: the congregation receive only the Body of Christ. We must not put the Lord Our God to the test just as when Satan tempts Our Lord to throw Himself down from the top of the temple to prove God's power off to unbelievers.

On the other hand, God appears to us in our frailty even in the breath of the air. When we receive His breath, we live even though we take our last breath on this earth.

The fact is that for all of us who are baptised and loves God, our last breath on earth will be this tainted air, but our first breath in Heaven will be the Holy Ghost in us.

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